New Model Army, a British rock trio scheduled to make its American debut at Club Saba (now Roxy) recently, suddenly found itself denied work permits by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service. Two other British bands, the Blow Monkeys and U.K. Subs, also were rejected by INS. The bands' rejection notices said that the places they would be playing weren't prestigious enough, that they wouldn't be receiving adequate compensation and, most cuttingly, that they had "no artistic merit."

British music newspapers had speculated that the denials were related to the recent controversy over sexually explicit rock lyrics, but an INS official denied there was any connection. He said the rejections are a result of a tightening of INS procedures dictated by a heavy workload.

New Model Army, which recently released an album here on Capitol, has had chart success in England, where it's known for tough social and political songs. "We're definitely not sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll," manager Nigel Morton said from London. "We find those roles abhorrent and obsolete. It's a moral group, we have a very big antidrug stance, and we've also spoken out against racism and sexism." A new application is being filed.

There are two categories of nonimmigrant visas, H-1 and H-2, and most rock acts have been coming in on the former, which is for "aliens of distinguished merit or ability who perform services of an exceptional nature requiring such merit and ability." H-2 visas are for "aliens who perform temporary service or labor for which a bonafide need exists," and require, among other things, Department of Labor certification and approval by the American Federation of Musicians. H-2 is generally considered cumbersome, unwieldly and time-consuming (up to six weeks longer to obtain).

One immigration lawyer, who asked for anonymity, noted that the notoriously understaffed INS had previously been accommodating, routinely granting H-1 permits for small promotional tours to bands with minimal track records (for H-1, a musician technically has to provide considerable proof of commercial and artistic success).

"If they meet the requirements, then they'll get H-1 ," said Charles Troy, public affairs officer of the Eastern Region of INS. "Otherwise they'll have to get H-2. We've been going by the book in adjudicating these cases." No Kids Allowed

Late last week, the San Antonio City Council voted 7-3 to bar unnaccompanied children under the age of 13 from city-owned venues where songs about certain sexual acts -- such as rape, incest, and sadomasochism -- are performed, the first such ordinance in the country. Monitoring will be left up to ushers; there is no plan for checking IDs, and the ordinance only applies to the city-owned halls. City Attorney Lowell Denton said the ordinance applies to all types of entertainment, including opera and theater; violations will bring a fine of up to $200 for the promoter. Bradley's Protest Promo

"Sun City," the all-star antiapartheid record, picked up a new promo ad last week when Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley held a press conference with Little Steven Van Zandt, Jackson Browne and George Clinton, criticizing L.A. radio stations for not giving enough air time to the song. Bradley, who also spoke out against censoring rock lyrics earlier this year, challenged his constituents to get involved by calling stations that weren't playing "Sun City" and urging them to do so.

Bradley's involvement brought more air play in Los Angeles, and this week "Sun City" is the country's and the most-added single on Radio and Records playlist charts and moving up on the pop charts as well. Despite its air-play problems, "Sun City" is selling tremendously.

In the next few days, Bradley said, he will send letters to his fellow mayors in 20 cities where "Sun City" has not gotten much air play (including Washington, Baltimore, Chicago, Dallas, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Detroit, Philadelphia and San Francisco). Stars for the Hall

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame doesn't have a home yet, but it has announced its initial inductees -- Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, Fats Domino, James Brown, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Jerry Lee Lewis and the Everly Brothers. These artists, whose major impact was pre-1960 and who were chosen by a star panel of industry veterans, will be inducted in ceremonies in mid-January at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York. The Hall of Fame Foundation is still scouting for a permanent home (possible locations include Memphis and New Orleans).

Foundation Chairman Ahmet Ertegun, who developed his passion for R&B and jazz growing up in Washington (his father was the Turkish ambassador here in the late '30s and early '40s), has produced an audio hall of fame for his own Atlantic Records in the form of a 186-song collection (seven double albums or a boxed set) covering Atlantic's R&B riches from 1947 to 1974. This may be 1985's Christmas gift for anyone who cares about American music.